Human Sex Trafficking problem hasn’t been confirmed in Las Vegas per Metro PD
Another brick wall, because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. How dare Metro Police Captain Terry Lesney to think she is waiting for the "perfect test case to set a precedent". "Like a minor who comes to Las Vegas thinking she's going to be a star and then forced into prositution" What the hell is she thinking making that statement? All prostitutes in Las Vegas go there to be prostitutes? What is wrong with this Police Captain has she not been on the streets or what? There is no perfect test case! Every girl that comes to Vegas is in awe of the lights and giltter. All the glamour the beautiful women and the clothes. It's like a fantasy world and little girls love lights.
It sounded like a script of an international spy thriller: lies, border-crossings, violence, sex.
Except Metro Police Sgt. Gil Shannon was describing the scene he and his officers encountered at dozens of Las Vegas Valley massage parlors every week: women speaking foreign languages, bags barely unpacked, practically imprisoned.
It was nothing less than “sex slavery.”
The audience of academics, police, lawyers and social workers gathered at UNLV listened intently as Shannon spoke about human trafficking, a scourge that was doubtless spreading across the valley. The theory, said Shannon and others, was simple: with sex for sale on the streets of Las Vegas, bad guys around the world must be bringing women here with lies or against their will to meet the demand. All the people sitting there had to do was work together to bust the traffickers and rescue the victims.
The date was Sept. 19, 2003.
Within two years, the federal government delivered more than a million dollars to help search for trafficking victims in the region. The fight was a top priority of the Bush administration, which would pour more than $150 million into similar efforts nationwide.
Today, however, despite the time and money invested, Southern Nevada is no closer to understanding the problem or more important, even proving that there is a problem, say top officials at Metro Police and at the Salvation Army. The two agencies are the main players on a task force funded by most of the federal money.
No traffickers have been caught.
The number of victims has barely reached double digits.
What’s more, the Health and Human Services Department, one source of the federal money, has no records of the results of its grants and the other federal agency funding the effort, the Justice Department, would not provide records to the Las Vegas Sun.
Similar outcomes have been seen nationwide, with few victims and fewer traffickers identified since Congress passed a law to attack the problem in 2000. That law laid out conditions for the “T” visa, which gives trafficking victims the right to live in the United States.
As of November, only 1,318 such visas had been granted nationwide.
Federal estimates of the number of victims have ranged from 14,500 a year up to 50,000, the number cited in the 2000 law.
Sharon Neville is a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles who was at the 2003 UNLV meeting. She trains attorneys and workers for nonprofit groups on the issue nationwide. Neville said she has stopped citing government estimates because she doesn’t think they’re reliable, and instead quotes the number of visas issued — “that’s the only thing you can point to.”
As for the results seen so far in Las Vegas and elsewhere, she doesn’t think it’s a sign that there is no problem, but rather that the federal money is being poorly spent. Task forces and other projects overlook basic but vital assets such as people who speak the language and understand the culture of the victims. She also thinks there has been a tendency to focus on trafficking for sex, ignoring large numbers of victims brought into the country to work in such industries as farming.
“Unfortunately, if you’re looking for headlines, sex trafficking sells,” she said.
Lt. Raymond Steiber, who in May became the point man at Metro Police for a $492,000 Justice Department grant on human trafficking, acknowledged that the August 2006 grant had not led to the prosecution of a single trafficker. He also said he did not have information readily available on how many victims the task force had helped.
“We really don’t know if there’s a problem, or how big it is,” Steiber said. But he cautioned that the absence of data should not be read as an indication the problem does not exist.
Steiber said the first year-plus of the grant suffered from a lack of organization, with little understanding about the different roles of policing, social services and immigration law.
Protocols are now in place, with Metro at the helm and other agencies providing support.
The Justice Department also gave $450,000 to the Salvation Army of Clark County in late 2006.
Maj. William Raihl, coordinator of the Salvation Army, said 12 people have been identified as victims of trafficking and are seeking permission to stay in the United States.
“If you look at the number of victims we’ve helped, we’re falling short,” he said. “That’s been the most disappointing thing.”
In 2005 and 2006, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department awarded $150,000 to WestCare, another local nonprofit, to find and help trafficking victims. The plan was to troll streets and massage parlors for women brought from foreign countries by deception or against their will. But social workers at the agency ran across few trafficking victims, instead finding that at least 90 percent of the women had other troubles, such as being underage runaways.
At the time, Metro Police Capt. Terry Lesney said she was “looking for that perfect test case, to set a precedent ... like a minor who comes here thinking she’s going to be a star and then she’s forced into prostitution.”